Alden Saloon Flybridge Express 44

At 44 feet, the Alden Saloon Flybridge Express is built to head for the islands.

I was trapped at the float like a hapless tourist in the bowels of Manhattan's street-parking nightmare. The Alden 44 Saloon Flybridge Express (its pedigree designation, Tonic being its show name) had been parallel parked between a larger Alden motoryacht and another float perpendicular to the one mooring the 44. No matter, judicious applications of throttle and bow thruster edged us sideways into a clear corridor. As we loped at a 25-knot cruise down the bay in flat water and a light fog, Tonic stirred the irresponsible side of my nature. "Let's go to Block Island for lunch, she seemed to say.

Alden's home on Naragansett Bay in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, places the company squarely in the New England tradition of design and high-quality execution. The competition here is tough, because many of the best designers in the United States and builders stateside and in the Far East have crowded the marketplace with New England-style motoryachts. Alden distinguishes itself by offering a degree of custom design and execution most of its competitors cannot. Tonic is a prime example of the builder's expertise.

A 44-foot motoryacht of this configuration is nearly ideal for a couple on a weeklong cruise or an entire season's adventure. It's small and agile enough for an experienced yachtsman to handle solo, and forgiving enough in its running characteristics to be a pleasant platform for teaching a tyro the joys of boating.

Any boat that claims to be a cruiser must have the stowage capacity to back up the claim. The Alden 44 has its fair share, but its usefulness impressed me more than the actual space. Four very large drawers occupy the dead space beneath the island berth in the master stateroom. The hanging locker on the port side is more than a hanger-span deep, so clothing won't chafe at the shoulders. A laundry hamper on the starboard side reduces clutter. Adjacent to the hamper, three smallish drawers swallow socks, underwear and other small items.

If a cruising couple hopes to be self-sufficient for more than a day, their boat's galley should be able to feed them in the manner to which they are accustomed. The owners of Tonic specified a tall refrigerator/freezer combo, similar to a typical household unit. It ought to support the boat's four-person passenger/crew list without overtaxing its capacity.

Aboard Tonic, I'd almost look forward to cleaning up after meals, which I avoid most times. The main reason is the enormous and deep stainless-steel sink. It would be at home in the professional galley of a megayacht. Counter space, too, encourages the orderly stacking of dishes, and the convenient stowage in the cabinet opposite the galley takes care of my other dreaded chore of returning the plates, etc., to their secure spaces.

Up a few steps from the galley are the bridge-deck saloon and inside helm. Massive windows bring the outside in and provide an exemplary 360-degree view. Mini-blinds let the occupants adjust the natural lighting to the level they want. The helm is comfortable and complete. The "complete part is a given on a yacht of this caliber, but the "comfort part is too often optional. This bench simply suited my anatomy. So did the bench at the navigation/passenger station opposite the helm. The footrest there was at exactly the right height for my short legs.

The saloon is on the small side for a 44-foot motoryacht, but this is a compromise born of the style. You can't have real side decks, a big galley, two staterooms, a reasonably large cockpit and a huge saloon. Tonic's is comfortable, though, for the number of people likely to cruise on her. My only complaint here is the location of the entertainment center in the after portside corner. The television is just above the level of the sole, and I don't like looking down at TV screens.

All the joinerwork inside is cherry, and it gives off a warm glow in the afternoon sunlight. I pictured myself on a chilly afternoon in late autumn, sipping 18-year-old single-malt scotch and reading a classic novel or listening to Yo-Yo Ma. A solid-fuel heater would be the best.

Up on the flying bridge, Ewing and I cruised through the thin fog playing on the huge wakes left by a couple of tugs headed toward Providence. Tonic didn't mind these wake-up calls in the slightest. Her V-bottom, drawn by Alden's design team, is much like a Hunt hull, and the ride is smooth. Her stiff structure and moderate displacement helped to shoulder aside the tug-generated rollers.

I don't usually associate the term acceleration with cruising yachts of this size, but Tonic responded like a cheetah on the hunt when I pushed the throttles to the stops. The optional 600 hp 3196TA Caterpillars spinning large props add this bit of excitement to her repertoire. Tonic's Hynautic power steering was smooth, accurate and nicely weighted, giving the illusion of feeling connected to the rudders if not the reality of old-fashioned mechanical steering. The Mathers controls surprised me with their positive operation.

When we returned to the dock, Alden's John Osetek asked me how I liked the boat. There I stood, a boat-crazed individual finishing a pleasant outing on a beautifully done yacht, and I was speechless. What part of this experience did he expect me not to like?

Contact: Alden Yachts, (401) 683-4200; www.aldenyachts.com.